NEW YORK (Mar. 22)
A federal court ruling rejecting Jonathan Pollard’s appeal of his life sentence for espionage has disappointed the family and supporters of the former Navy analyst who sold secrets to Israel.
But they have found some comfort in the dissent issued Friday by one member of the three-judge appellate panel in Washington, which agreed with at least part of Pollard’s claim that his 1987 sentence was a miscarriage of justice.
“We’re disappointed that one other judge didn’t join us, but clearly it demonstrates that this is the sort of close question that ought to have the support of the Jewish community,” said Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, who is one of Pollard’s attorneys.
In fact, the Pollard case has divided the American Jewish community.
Many organizations and individuals have urged clemency or at least supported the appeal, which claimed the sentence was excessively harsh and that the government had violated a plea bargain agreement by implying its desire for the maximum sentence.
Among the organizations who have lined up behind the supporters are the World Jewish Congress, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Reform Judaism’s Central Conference of American Rabbis and Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox group.
But several major Jewish communal relations agencies have not signed on, most notably the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and American Jewish Congress, as well the umbrella organizations in which they participate.
“After listening to both sides, the predominant view was this was not a case for us to get into,” said Samuel Rabinove, director of legal affairs for the AJCommittee.
DO JEWISH GROUPS SHARE BLAME?
Dershowitz said the AJCommittee and other organizations that have not joined the Pollard cause may bear some responsibility for Friday’s court ruling.
“I honestly believe the case might have come out 2-1 in our favor if the American Jewish organizations had been more supportive,” he said.
“Tragic” is how Seymour Reich described the role taken by some of those organizations.
“There are several efforts under way now where members of the Christian community have been asked to intercede on Jonathan’s behalf and have been told by Jewish organizations not to,” said Reich, the immediate past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations who has met with Pollard and advocated on his behalf.
The Pollard case has struck the rawest nerve in the Jewish community of any trial since perhaps that of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1951. Like the Rosenbergs, who were convicted of passing the secrets of the atomic bomb to the Soviets, Pollard was an American Jew who placed his American loyalty second.
But unlike the Rosenbergs, who went to the electric chair protesting their innocence, Pollard admitted giving American secrets to Israel.
He maintained he did so because the United States was not living up to its commitments to share sensitive information with the Jewish state. By his account, those secrets included location of Iraqi chemical weapons factories.
The government prosecution, however, emphasized that Pollard received tens of thousands of dollars in payment for the information, in what Israeli officials denounced as a “rogue operation” at the time of his 1985 arrest.
FAMILY PLANS TO APPEAL
“I don’t accept the dual loyalty problem,” said Reich. “If that’s the reason Jewish organizations have failed to act on his behalf, it indicates a sorry state.
“He committed a crime, he deserved to be punished, but the punishment was excessive,” said Reich, an attorney.
Yet just as in the Rosenberg trial, where a Jewish judge imposed the death sentence, it has not escaped notice that the two judges who turned down Pollard’s appeal, Laurence Silberman and Ruth Ginsburg, are Jewish.
But Judge Stephen Williams, a non-Jew, dissented, writing that there had been a “fundamental miscarriage of justice” in Pollard’s sentencing.
At the core of the appeal was what was described as the contradiction between Pollard’s plea bargain and his receiving the harshest possible sentence.
The Pollard family plans an appeal to the Supreme Court. But the high court generally agrees to hear only 1 percent of such appeals, according to Dershowitz.
Meanwhile, the Pollard family and supporters will continue to build popular pressure for clemency, both within and outside the Jewish community.
“Our push forward will continue — whether it is through continued legal action or an appeal for the commutation of Jonathan’s sentence has not yet been determined,” Carol Pollard, the convict’s sister, said in a statement issued Friday on behalf of the family.
She said that she had spoken to her brother by telephone and that he asked “that we express his disappointment about the court’s ruling, along with his determination to continue the struggle for freedom.”